North Korea sealed its land borders with China and Russia early last year after the first reports of Covid-19 cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. While the closures and restrictions on people’s movements inside the country appear to have prevented the pandemic from taking hold, they have devastated its import-dependent economy.
“The North Korean economy is on the brink of a huge recession,” said Jiro Ishimaru, who heads the Osaka-based Asia Press website and operates a network of citizen journalists in North Korea.
Ishimaru said the near-collapse of trade with China had caused significant job losses, with people forced to sell possessions and even residency rights to their state-owned homes to buy food.
Data shows North Korea’s trade with China shrank by about 80% last year after Pyongyang sealed its borders, knowing that significant virus cases would quickly cripple its already weak health infrastructure.
“A lot of people are suffering,” Ishimaru said. “I have spoken to contacts who say there are more people begging for food and money at markets, and a rise in the number of homeless people. There is also a desperate need for antibiotics and other medicines.”